Over at Econlog a few weeks ago I did a post entitled “How I Think.” I was reminded of that post when reading commenter theories on the poor health outcomes of American whites aged 45-54. In the post, I said that when evaluating Alan Greenspan’s performance, you don’t want to focus on Greenspan; you want to focus on how other central bankers did during this period (about as well.) When thinking about China’s growth prospects you don’t want to focus on everything you know about China (too complicated), but rather look at other East Asian countries. And when deciding whether the gold inflows to Spain (1500-1650) were a resource curse that hurt long-term growth, you want to look at other Mediterranean regions that did not received big gold inflows.
Here’s the graph:
People were providing answers that seemed to miss the big picture. The graph shows two surprising results, the poor performance of middle-aged white health after 2000, and the excellent performance of Hispanic health after 2000. In America, Hispanics tend to be disproportionately low income/working class, the group that has been hit hardest by recent economic trends. They were also especially likely (before ObamaCare) to lack health insurance. And yet their health is significantly better than the health of French and German citizens, in the same age group.
I have no theories at all—I don’t even know if the data are accurate. But if I was going to come up with a theory, I sure as hell would make sure it explained the sudden and massive divergence in White/Hispanic health outcomes. If it didn’t, I’d have zero confidence that my theory was correct.
Paul Krugman has promised us an explanation in a future post. Let’s see what he comes up with.
PS. I don’t know about you, but to me that graph undercuts some of the recent anti-immigration hysteria. If Hispanics are actually so inferior, so likely to degrade our precious “Anglo” civilization, how come they have such superior health outcomes? In rich countries like America, don’t poor health outcomes often reflect poor lifestyle choices? Just asking.
Update: Commenter Mike Scally linked to an Andrew Gelman post that says the US data is biased about 5% upward due to compositional effects (the 45-54 age group is getting slightly older, due to boomers passing through). So instead of rising slightly, US white (middle aged) death rates at a given age have been essentially flat. Of course other death rates fell about 30%, so there’s still a pretty big mystery.